So what exactly was Bob Costas supposed to apologize for?
A Kansas City Chiefs player murders the mother of his child and then goes to the Chiefs' practice facility, thanks his coach and general manager for the life opportunity and then shoots himself in front of them as the cops pull into the parking lot. He dies later.
Everyone's quick check of Missouri gun laws reveals no licensing or registration needed to buy handguns. To carry them concealed requires a permit, but if they catch you without one, it's only a violation for which you pay $35. Illegal parking in Buffalo costs more.
The crime is big news – murder is uncommon in the NFL and any other sport. During halftime of the first Sunday night football program after the tragic, needless murder-suicide, NBC's Bob Costas reads an excerpt from a column by sportswriter Jason Whitlock. Whitlock contends that if the player hadn't had guns as an easy solution to a domestic disagreement, both victims of the murder-suicide would still be alive.
Well, of course. It seems to me that's virtually inarguable. Yes, women are still stabbed to death in horrendous incidents of domestic violence in this country. If large kitchen knives were his only weapon of violent recourse, though, one has to wonder if discharging his fury would have been as easy. (Not to mention the unlikelihood of his suicide-by-knife.)
How easy it is to shoot a handgun, even with some kickback; how very dead you can be after you're shot.
Costas, then, was quoting for a national audience, the commentary of Kansas City's nationally prominent sports columnist about the terrible events. That the commentary was pointedly critical of American gun culture is representative of a huge segment of the American population – many would say a majority.
Costas has the strongest commentary credibility of anyone in the regular world of sports. As Olympic emcee and one of the best interviewers late night television will ever have on the long-gone but fondly remembered “Later,” Costas is now a sports figure by profession but hardly by intellectual or emotional limitation. He has the breadth of the most “serious” TV news figures even though his job next Sunday night, for instance, will be to guide American TV viewers through the San Francisco 49ers encounter with the New England Patriots in New England.
Somehow, though, diminutive, cheerful Costas wound up defensive and even apologetic with tall, ex-Harvard blunderbuss Bill O'Reilly, whose show can be used by liberals as a poultice for sudden political inflammations of the conservative persuasion.
It was a tribute once again – not that we ever needed one – to the monolithic power of the gun lobby, especially in an era when political extremism has become even easier than shooting people. What simply cannot be avoided, though, is that behind the American gun lobby is the Second Amendment in all its anachronistic, non sequitur glory.
Not only do its two clauses not really go together (the sense of it is that you never know when a citizen militia might need to repel transoceanic invaders, so you'd better have guns in the house just in case your participation is needed), but it's a relic of weapons technology two centuries old.
I've always thought the best way to understand the Second Amendment is to think of the duel of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It was roughly contemporaneous with the Second Amendment (it happened 13 years after the Second Amendment, which will celebrate its 221st birthday Saturday).
You could say, Jason Whitlock-style, that if Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr hadn't had access to dueling pistols in a society that absurdly encouraged their use, George Washington wouldn't have lost the most brilliant adviser he ever had and America itself would have had one of its greatest minds around a few decades longer. Burr just couldn't stand Hamilton getting in his political way any longer, on the thoroughly understandable ground that Burr was a nasty, dishonest SOB. Hence, the duel, as ridiculous as it has seemed for hundreds of years.
Both the First and Second Amendments are the product of ancient technologies. No one in post-Revolutionary America could possibly have imagined assault rifles – or nuclear bombs in suitcases, either. Nor in 18th century America could they have foreseen cellphones capable of conjuring flash mobs in minutes and sending child pornography across oceans in even less time than that. Twelve years ago, who among us thought of commercial jet airliners as huge instruments of international terrorism?
The idea that information devices themselves are among the greatest weapons in the 21st century – laying vast governmental and financial systems open to any malevolence smart and willing enough – would have been a nightmare large enough to cause a self-respecting “founding father” to turn around and go back to bed.
If Alexander Hamilton were alive in 2012, I doubt he'd think it was a good idea that innocent Colorado citizens going to see the newest Batman movie could be slaughtered by a crazy guy who was able to get his hands on an assault rifle. I would be willing to bet he'd be thinking of ways to make that less likely.
The First Amendment is an idea that, I submit, in pure form is the noblest in the history of Western civilization: We are all not only entitled to think, talk and read as we choose, but we are all, potentially, instruments of each other's enlightenment.
The Second Amendment is a defense strategy for a world that hasn't existed in two centuries.
To understate the case, mine was not a gun household when I was growing up.
Nor was any that I knew of. I loved toy guns as a kid. (I was one of Hopalong Cassidy's little “buckaroos.”) When I first shot a rifle at Adirondack summer camp, I liked it and quickly got good enough to win an NRA sharpshooter badge.
My life as a marksman was over as quickly as it began. I didn't meet anyone who hunted until I went to college and had in my dormitory guys from Jamestown, Tupper Lake and Meadville, Pa., who'd all grown up teen hunters.
Their diversions aren't mine, but if that's what they want to do, I'd never want to stop them (one of them who worked at the cafeteria bagged a bunch of quail and cooked them for us – very tasty, though you had to watch out for shotgun pellets).
That handguns are so easily available in Kansas City and that assault rifles can be purchased anywhere by private citizens seem to me things that a modern-day Alexander Hamilton might want to rethink a little (especially if one of those private citizens was Aaron Burr.)
As for a commentator as trenchant as Bob Costas, Thomas Jefferson would no doubt be glad the First Amendment had his back, even if Hamilton might have been dubious.